Tuesday, 17 January 2017

May's Brexit vision depends on the goodwill of Australians

Brexit Britain will cut itself off from Europe and 'turn to the world'. But does the world want them? In Australia, feelings are ambivalent.

This morning in London, Theresa May will make what is probably the most important speech of her political career.

The British people "voted to leave the European Union and embrace the world" she will say, outlining a vision for the UK to completely cut itself off from the EU and instead focus on rebuilding a globally-focused maritime trading empire. The first focus will be on the countries which share a monarch with Britain - Australia, New Zealand and Canada. 

I've been travelling through Australia for the past two weeks as part of a month-long visit, and I've been asking Australians how they feel about being part of Britain's glorious new trading vision. The reaction has largely been bemusement. But more on that later.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

If it comes to US vs China, will Trump make Australia choose a side?

Militarily dependent on America but economically dependent on China, Australia could be the biggest loser in a coming trade war.

I'm in the middle of a three-week visit to Australia, currently on a flight to Brisbane after a fascinating week in Sydney. As I expected, as an American I have spent the week fielding confused and exasperated questions about Donald Trump.

The sentiments have largely echoed what I read in last month's 'Dear America, why did you let us down?' New York Times op-ed by Australian doctor Lisa Pryor. "You may not know us, the people beyond your borders, but we know you," she wrote. "And here we Australians are on the edge of Asia, a small and loyal ally of the United States, caught between our strategic alliance with you and our economic future with China. We feel worried, lucky — and alone."

Friday, 30 December 2016

Could the US have a military coup?

The military is the only American institution left with public trust, and that trust is enormous. As a new era dawns, the previously unthinkable is on the table.

Each year, I come home to the United States for an extended break over the Christmas holiday. Ordinarily it’s a time to relax, recharge, and spend some quality time with family. But this year a dark cloud is hanging over my visit.

I’m from the New York area, so it’s no surprise that people here are still feeling a sense of shell shock about November’s election result. But this isn’t the same disappointment people felt during the George W era. This isn’t about politics. There is a palpable sense of anxiety and fear in the air. Nobody knows what’s coming next.

There is a sense that everything people thought they knew about their own country has suddenly evaporated. More than one person has described the feeling as being one of a “living nightmare” that they still expect to wake up from. Someone else told me that the sudden shock of having the world you thought you knew come tumbling to the ground gave him “the same feeling as on September 11th”.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Is Trump pulling a Juncker with his cabinet picks?

While EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker's strategy was designed as a trap for national European capitals, it's hard to gauge whether there's any method to Trump's madness.

Last night on The Daily Show, host Trevor Noah came up with a theory behind the extreme hard-right cabinet appointments of Donald Trump.
"You know, sometimes I think Trump is trolling us, people,” he said. “It’s like the ultimate troll! Because you realize, every single person he’s picked for his cabinet wants to destroy the thing that they’ve been put in charge of."
Trump has appointed a man who hates the Environmental Protection Agency (and is even currently suing it) to run that same agency. He's appointed a fast food executive opposed to workers rights and the minimum wage as labor secretary. He's appointed a conspiracy-peddling alarmist as national security adviser. The list goes on.

Friday, 2 December 2016

The EU may get its first far-right president. But does it matter?

Sunday may be a pivotal turning point for Europe, but not because of the presidential election in Austria. A referendum in Italy could bring the euro back to crisis point.

In May, when Austria held its first attempt at holding a presidential election, newspapers in the UK and the US were full of breathless coverage. "Austria is on the brink of electing Europe's first far-right president since WWII" they declared.

The BBC and The Guardian both used the occasion to run features about the 'rise of nationalism and populism in Europe', both of which curiously left out Britain's own UK Independence Party. 'Populism is other people' they convinced themselves. Now, after Brexit and Trump, the Anglo-American coverage is quite different.

And the coverage has returned, because the Austrian election is being re-run this Sunday, 4 December. 

In May, the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer, the leader of the Freedom Party, was beaten by Alexander Van der Bellen from the Green Party by just a few thousand votes. The two were facing each other in a shock second round after the country's main center-right and center-left candidates were eliminated. It was the first time a candidate from either the Greens or Freedom Party made it to the second round.

Friday, 18 November 2016

3/4 of electorate gave their nod to Trumpism

In the week since the US presidential election I've seen a lot of people posting that "only one in five Americans" endorsed Trump for president. No.

While it is true that only 19.5% of Americans cast a vote for Donald Trump last Tuesday (versus 19.8% for Clinton), one cannot then make the leap to say that 80% of Americans are opposed to Trump and are being dragged along unwillingly. That is nonsense.

First off, 29% of Americans are not eligible to vote, either because they are too young or because they have committed a crime. We have no way of knowing how those people feel about Trump. Then we have to people who were eligible to vote but chose not to - 45% of the eligible population.